Tag Archives: single action

RETRO-REVIEW: Colt SAA

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The Colt SAA is perhaps the most easily recognizable revolver in the world. READ MORE

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Heyward Williams

Some handguns give you a 1200 psi adrenaline flow just handling them. Others are as exciting as a dance on broken ground. The Colt Single Action Army is among the former. The Colt is an icon in the truest sense, and iconic handguns and the use they have been put to in times of war and trouble are immensely interesting. Despite being introduced in 1873 the Colt SAA (sometimes called Frontier Six Shooter or Peacemaker) remains in production and is still a useful firearm. I often carry the Colt Single Action Army in the field, as a trail gun, when hiking, and sometimes just because it feels right. My philosophy of a hard hit delivered with accuracy in preference to a flurry of small caliber shots seems a good fit for my lifestyle. The Colt isn’t at the top of the list for personal defense anymore but then it isn’t at the bottom either. For protection against dangerous animals including feral dogs and the big cats the Colt seems just right. The Colt was the first choice of experienced gunners many years ago, in spite of good quality double action revolvers being widely available. Lawrence of Arabia, Frank Hamer, Tom Threepersons, Douglas McArthur, George S Patton and others relied on the Colt SAA for everyday use. It is a practical and hard hitting handgun and these men were on the point of danger. (Hamer and Lawrence each referred to the Colt SAA as their Lucky Gun or Old Lucky, and each also used the 1911 pistol.)

In the early 1870s Colt Firearms was given the task of creating a new Army revolver. The goal was a handgun and cartridge capable of taking a Native American war pony out of action at 100 yards. (More horses than men were killed in practically every battle in the west.) The result was the solid frame Single Action Army. The .45 Colt used a variety of loads ranging from 230 to 260 grains, at 750 to 900 fps, and in both copper and brass cartridge cases. The cartridge lived up to its promise. While there were other cartridges chambered in the Colt, notably the .44-40 WCF, the .45 Colt is my favorite. It resounds with authority today.

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This is a second generation .45 Colt SAA.

The original Army revolver featured a 7 ½ inch barrel. The later Artillery Model featured a 5 ½ inch barrel and finally a popular 4 ¾ inch barrel or Gunfighter’s Model. The Single Action Army requires the hammer be put on half cock to load. Open the loading gate. Load one cartridge, skip a cylinder, load four and cock the hammer and lower it on an empty chamber. The revolver then and now is only safe to carry with five beans under the wheel as the firing pin would rest on the primer of a chambered cartridge otherwise, an unsafe practice. To unload open the loading gate and kick each cartridge out individually with the ejector button. The first guns were manufactured with iron frames that were case hardened to strength. I still prefer the case hardened look with modern high quality steel revolvers. There are incremental improvements in the type and many different chamberings. The SAA earned a reputation as a durable and hard hitting handgun. The balance of the revolver is excellent. It is among the fastest pointing and hitting handguns I have used. The 1911 fits my hand well and it is superior in rapid fire, the double action revolver required a different grip style to stabilize the handgun as the forefinger works the trigger. But nothing points like a finger like the SAA. Even today few handguns are as fast and sure to an accurate first shot at moderate range. The wound potential of the lumbering old slug is unsurpassed in standard calibers although equaled by strong loads in the .45 Auto Rim.

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The .45 Colt responds well to careful handloading.

My modern SAA is the 4 ¾ inch version with case hardened frame. The revolver is plenty accurate for most uses. I have used quite a few loads in this Colt and still enjoy working up handloads and testing factory loads. Winchester still produces the original 255 grain conical bullet. The Super X load is faster than the modern cowboy action loads and breaks just over 800 fps in the 4 ¾ inch barrel SAA. This load exhibits excellent penetration. The bullet will tumble in some media creating an extensive wound the length of its travel. I have the greatest respect for this load as a personal defense load and for defense against animals into the big cat class. I have also tested the Winchester PDX hollowpoint. This load operates a modest pressure but jolts a well designed 225 grain JHP at 800 fps. Expansion is good. This loading would make an excellent defense load for home defense. There are combinations I load myself for occasional use that are even stronger including a 255 grain SWC at 1,000 fps, but I do not need these for most uses. With any of these loads the Colt will group five shots into 2-2.5 inches at 20 yards.

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.45 Colt loads compared to the .45 ACP.

A great advantage of the SAA is its balance on the hip. The revolver sets right, with the proper balance of barrel, cylinder and butt to offer a forward tilt on the draw. While I am not adverse to tucking the revolver in my belt — with the loading gate open in the appendix position == you really need a good holster. Among the finest possible holsters to be had is the DM Bullard shoulder holster. This is a relatively fresh design with excellent utility. The holster load bearing harness features a steel reinforcement for rigidity. The holster itself may be detached for belt use if needed. The rig shows excellent fit and finish including creased straps and excellent adjustment. During the winter months there is no handier type of carry. I also use a concealed carry holster with a severe tilt that offers practically as much concealment as an inside the waistband holster. Mine is of carefully crafted exotic leather. Also from DM Bullard this holster is a sturdy companion that keeps the handgun secure but ready for a rapid presentation.

The Colt has the famous plow handled grip and a decent trigger. A tip on firing the beast- don’t take the time to carefully steady the gun and fire slow fire but use it as intended. Draw, cock the hammer as it is brought on target, and press the trigger smoothly but quickly. Colt revolvers are among the most famous of handguns. They are historically important and offer practical utility today. If a sense of history and emotional attachment mean anything to you these are the handguns to have. Don’t lock them in the safe. Fire them often. Carry them. They are valuable but in my opinion more valuable to a shooter than a collector.

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SKILLS: Holsterless Handguns — Viable?

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A true packing pistol should be viable if simply shoved in the waistband… READ MORE

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Carrying the piece crossdraw in the waistband works well for many shooters.

Bob Campbell

For years most of us have counseled concealed carry handgun carriers to choose a proper holster. A holster keeps the handgun stable and angled for the proper draw. Just the same, who am I to go against two hundred years or more of tradition? Wild Bill Hickock kept his revolvers in a tightly woven sash. Few early holsters were suitable for concealed carry. Even today many folks like pocket carry. I will leave that for another time. Many of us like to shove a handgun in the belt for a quick run to the store or for more casual carry. Among my friends that are retired cops the trend seems to be toward such carry. That’s fine as long as they know what they are doing. The handgun must be tightly sandwiched in between the belt and the body and reasonably secure, not likely to be dislodged. I am not recommending concealed carry with no holster, far from it, but I am also a realist and feel that this common practice should be discussed.

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If there were ever a better packing revolver than the Colt SAA the author has never seen it.

Sam Colt designed pocket, belt and holster guns. Each was a different size, for different needs. They generally ran .31, .36 and .44 caliber. Today we have sub-compact, compact and service size pistols. Some are less suited for concealed carry than others. As an example, I usually carry a Commander .45. I may carry a Government Model .45. I have learned after much experimentation that rail guns can be tricky on the draw. The Springfield Operator seems the best of the bunch when coupled with the Galco N3 holster, and a sharp draw isn’t difficult. Sometimes this isn’t true with other designs. If you are going to carry the 1911 in the waistband then the casual outlook probably doesn’t include a rail for mounting a combat light. The rail may snag on clothing. It is important to practice the draw. It is obvious that carrying the pistol cocked and locked isn’t the best idea if the handgun isn’t carried in a holster. The 1911 may reasonably be carried hammer down in relative safety if the pistol features a firing pin block or extra strength firing pin spring as most all modern 1911s do.

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A cocked and locked 1911 rail gun, upper, may not be the best choice for waistband carry. The P210 9mm, lower, is long but slim and rides well without a holster. It is also easy to cock the hammer quickly.
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This rail may snag the undergarments — practice a few draws to be certain.

The problem is cocking the hammer on the draw. It isn’t that difficult with the modern Government Model with a spur hammer. Some practice needs to go into this draw and making the pistol ready. It is slower than cocked and locked carry. But it is faster than carrying with an empty chamber. If you are carrying a self loading handgun with an empty chamber you really need to be carrying a revolver! When it comes to other single action hammered self loaders we have a mixed bunch. I am not exactly a snowflake, but I find the hammer of the Browning High Power 9mm very difficult to cock on the draw. The hammer is powered by a very heavy spring. The High Power will certainly crack most any primer, which is the design intent, but that hammer renders the High Power much less desirable for holsterless carry. I have to use two hands to rack the High Power. The CZ 75 is another matter. This piece is snug against the body, nearly perfect for carrying in the waistband. While the CZ is a double action first shot pistol it is pretty easy to cock the hammer on the draw. I am very much enjoying the SIG P210A. This is a wonderfully accurate and very well made single action handgun. I find cocking the hammer on the draw quite easy. I don’t feel comfortable carrying any striker fired handgun thrust in the waistband. Neither should you. Some self loaders dont work well based on design. Among my favorite light handguns is the Bond Arms Bullpup 9. The Bullpup 9 is a great shooter and its double action only trigger makes it a safe enough pistol to pack without a holster. The problem is the super compact geometry. The piece just doesn’t fit and balance well in the waistband.

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The Model 69 .44 Magnum, top, is a good waistband gun — the Ladysmith, center, is pretty good but the snub .38, bottom, may squirm too much.

For the most part revolvers do not work nearly as well in the waistband without a holster. The snubnose .38, among the most trusted defensive handguns, is too short and squirms in the waistband. A three inch barrel version is a bit better. I sometimes carry the Model 69 2.75 inch barrel Combat Magnum .44 in the front, to the right of the belt buckle, and it is okay for a casual walk. The absolute best balanced revolvers for casual in the waistband carry are the plow handled Single Action Army types. This is among the reasons so many lawmen kept the SAA long past its prime, it is simply well balanced and fast handling. A 4 ¾ inch barrel SAA is about as compact as most double action .357 revolvers and balances well if worn in the front and tucked into the waistband. If you are worried about the revolver slipping into the pants then open the loading gate (crossdraw in the waistband also works as well) as you draw close the loading gate.

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Striker fired pistols such as the SIG, top, are not the best choice for carry without a holster. The DAO Bond Bullpup, lower, is a good handgun but the geometry demands a holster. Just not enough real estate to keep the piece steady in the belt.

I think that there are times when holsterless carry works well. It isn’t ideal but then all types of concealed carry are a compromise.